Tentative observations from the last day of the WSF International Council Meeting 11 Oct 2020

By Tord Björk

This is a personal report and observations, it may not be correct due to misunderstanding of language or intentions. The official report will follow and of course, being the important document. I still believe a tentative report will be useful including comments from a civilizational critical and ecological point of view.

In general, the meeting on 27th October taking place during 4 hours was important. It was the endgame after four extended meetings of the IC with other movements as well as national and thematic social forums and the first day of the IC on 9th of October. Decisions had to finally be made. I think many can see the result as useful as some tensions in the IC were set aside and fruitful discussions resulted in progress that I do hope is of interest to many movements inspiring greater participation.

Decisions made (here in more general wording, exact formulations will follow in the official report):

1. A virtual WSF will be held the last week in January parallel to the
virtual Davos meeting. I do not remember if a decision was made to
make it a whole week or just some days, maybe that decision will be
made later.  To arrange this decentralized forum the articulation
working group set up by IC will invite interested movements to take
part in facilitation. Also, other working groups set up by IC on
communication and funding will be involved. This virtual WSF can be a
kind of hybrid combining smaller physical meetings with internet
possibilities to attend and connect to the whole WSF process. It will
be a completely new model. Before a Local organizing Committee in the
country where WSF was held ook care of the facilitation. Now the IC
through its working groups together with interested international
movements have to play this role and find a way to facilitate a
decentralized forum.

2. A physical WSF in Mexico may be possible to arrange in May parallel
to the Davos meeting taking place in Switzerland or later in 2020 or
early 2021. Here a strong claim was made from Mexicans that they cannot
arrange a WSF without strong support from international movements.
Rather than the old model of a Local Organizing Committee, a
facilitation committee with both Mexican organizations and
international including the working groups set up by the IC might be
the solution. A final decision on this topic was not made but it was
made clear that a WSF in Mexico is an option.

My personal intervention was to point at the problem we have with high
ambitions and limited means to fulfil them all. I supported different
proposals and combined them into one including my insistence on
stronger youth participation and assemblies of social movements. I
suggested that each day during the decentralized WSF week both
actions, open space events, and assemblies to promote actions in the
future could take place. Self organized youth assemblies would be
useful on the same subject as general assemblies on the topic for each
day. Globalization of the process to bring better geographic balance
would also be usefully combined with a report to world assemblies. I
put equal emphasis on open space events stating both that a virtual
WSF gives us far better possibilities to open up for self organized
activities not being limited to a limited number of localities as well
as the need of important intellectuals speaking to us without being
part of a process that aimed at specific common action. Apart from the
left-wing intellectuals often mentioned, I suggested Pope Francis
and the Bangladeshi novelist Amitav Gosh as people that could
contribute to such open space messages. I also stated that it would be
good if we, for the time being, could put aside a bit the polarization
between the proponents of WSF as an open space or a decision-making
process.

This intervention was well received in the chat comments by Chico
Whitaker and Francine Mestrum, two people that have been on opposing
sides in the views on the future of WSF. I do not suggest that the
discussion about the future of WSF should take a halt nor did the
meeting either if I understand the mood correctly. But that we now
whatever vision we have for the future can concentrate our effort of
organizing the virtual and hybrid WSF in January

There were also other important discussions taking place. The
communication working group had an ambitious plan for a website
including seeing the need to get out of the grip of US internet
companies. A comment was made that this kind of ambitious plans often
had been presented to the council but did not materialize. The funding
group had made several attempts to approach donors but have found no
one interested. A virtual WSF will need more web capacity so this
discussion is important. My comment is that a virtual WSF also opens
up for decentralization also of some of the web presence by e.g.
continental or national coordination of events at these levels linked
to thematic axes.

The European Social Forum in 2008 held in Sweden got severe problems
when professional staff proposed a third website adding to the two we
already had. This third website would make a horizontal open space
process possible but needed a professional setting it up. A volunteer
and experienced cashier in the steering committee stated
that it went against good economic principle to decide making projects
that were not funded. The decision was anyway made. The result was
that the cashier left his post but there was no competent person to
replace him. A rift between competent volunteers and the few
professionals backed by trade unions and Attac caused chaos and in the
end bankruptcy. ESF with some thousand activities and a cultural
program with 600 events as well as 15000 participants and a
demonstration took place. But the bankruptcy opposed in the aftermath
by the activist organizations that wanted to collect money to pay the
translators and
cultural workers was pushed through by the trade unions as their
solution. After this ESF never really recovered. The situation now is
different and the need for a website is urgent. But as a warning
against too high technical ambitions the story from ESF 2008 is useful
to keep in mind.

Another problem is imbalances in participation in the process. The
geographic imbalance is quite extreme. This can strongly be helped by
organizing continental/subcontinental/regional coordination, something
many pointed at. The extreme lack of youth participation can be helped
in a similar manner by calling for Assemblies of Youth Social
Movements held parallel to assemblies of social movements and coming
to common conclusions in meetings where half of the speakers are
young.

A deeper problem is the way that the valid charter from June 2001
often is set aside when the messaging of what WSF is about is made.
The valid charter puts questioning the present relationship between
human beings and nature at an equal level with anticapitalism and
anti-imperialism. Thus issues seen as primarily social are equally
important in the charter as issues seen primarily as ecological. This
is seldom acknowledged. The default mode is that anticapitalism is the
common cause, sometimes added with feminism. This repeated itself at
the IC meeting and is not acceptable if WSF wants to take the charter
seriously and have more movements interested.

The way ecological and
civilization critical movements have been treated in the process is
often as captives allowed in the margin, often with the most important
issues left out replaced by opportunistic ways that with a more
industrial view upon climate change. The way that the WSF charter
often is set aside replaced by simplistic notions that WSF is a left
forum is another way how civilization critical and ecological
movements as well as those addressing the need for regenerative local
alternatives are marginalized. Movements that have other traditions
than the left. This dominance of a default /left, feminist,
anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist/ vision of WSF goes against the
notion in the WSF charter that issues concerning the relationship
between human beings and nature are equally important to social
justice and similar issues.

This default left monopolizing of the man part of the discussion
concerning WSF has fostered a sterile confrontation between horizontal
and vertical left-wing traditions. The main bulk of analysis about WSF
focuses on this form issue. Both seeing the legacy of the left as a
starting point for the discussion. But this is irrelevant for the
civilizational critical and ecological movement. These movements do
have problems but others seldom if ever had the kind of problem with a
central committee making decisions which members are supposed to
follow nor have problems with setting up vertical decision making
structures when necessary although also well experienced in horizontal
decision-making.

As long as the polarization between open horizontal space and vertical
decision-making dominated the discussion there was little room for the
civilization-critical and ecological movements. Now this polarization
which might have been necessary is less present in the preåparations
for a virtual and hybrid WSF that last week in January 2021. This
means there is no more excuse for movements seeing the relationship
between humans and nature as important to not intervene and
contribute, building on other traditions than the left.

Tord Björk

Member of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, Prague Spring 2 network and Friends
of the Earth Sweden
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